The Oasis of Mars. He had to get there. It was the only place in the galaxy where clean water was still available. And Zane didn’t plan to risk certain death by attempting to sneak through the Denian blockade around Earth Prime.
Granted, Mars was also guarded, but because of super-religious Helio Vectarus, Potentate of the Denians, there were less restrictive barriers around the red planet. Denians were superstitious, and other than the rare foray to pillage the homes of the remaining Mars settlers, in search of new slave stock, they kept their distance.
The red color of Mars mimicked the color of Denian blood. They believed when their blood turned that color outside their bodies they were losing the power of J’deng-mi, the god of life and fire. Mars’ surface represented death. It was the only thing which had saved the humans who’d settled the planet from being completely wiped out.
Zane finished scanning the vicinity for any sign of Denian patrols. The path looked clear and the chances of being caught on this particular day were low because of the celebration of Vraths. They would be on minimum alert for several hours yet.
He entered the coordinates for the oasis into the auto-landing system and manually lifted off from the misshapen moon of Mars, Phobos. The density of Phobos was perfect for deflecting Denian sensors.
The small transport ship made its way toward Fruitful, the Oasis of Mars as it was generally known. The hairs on the back of Zane’s neck stood on end. Never a good sign. Something wasn’t right.
He unbuckled and leaned forward in his chair, reaching his hands over the dash to balance his weight. The view before him made the wheels in his mind spin out of control.
“Hey, Sean, come and look at this,” Zane said over the intercom.
Zane looked over his shoulder several times, concerned Sean hadn’t heard him. He kept the main part of his focus on Mars’s surface, and his heart rate picked up a notch.
Sean stumbled through the door, rubbed sleep from his eyes, and flopped into the seat next to Zane. “What’s up, Cap?”
“Look there. We’re coming up on Fruitful, but something’s off.”
Sean stretched then rubbed his eye one more time before mimicking the captain’s stance over the dash. He inspected the Mars habitat for a few seconds. “You mean the clouds in the dome?”
“There are no clouds at the Oasis of Mars. What do you think’s going on in there?”
“Don’t got a clue.”
Zane’s unease rippled through his muscles. He dropped back into his seat and danced his finger across the controls, taking the ship out of autopilot.
Sean stared at the planet for a few more seconds before he took his seat and buckled up. Zane knew Sean wouldn’t bother questioning him, no matter how odd his behavior. He’d been Zane’s second for too many years, and they’d been through too much for Sean not to trust Zane’s gut instinct.
“Take over observation controls, Sean. If there’s trouble below, it’s probably the Denians.”
Sean swiveled his chair toward the correct controls and went to work.
Zane increased their rate of entry. The heat of their speed upon entering the atmosphere of Mars could be felt radiating through the ship’s hull. It reminded him of a time they’d narrowly escaped a Glaston cruiser’s attack by sling-shotting around Caph’s smallest planet.
Sweat beaded on his brow. He swiped it away with one hand, but his eyes never left the target for landing.
Meanwhile, Sean attempted to contact the surface. “Colony Fruitful, this is Caelum I requesting permission to enter your atmosphere.”
They waited for a reply. Other than the occasional instrument monitor beep, silence filled the cockpit. Zane held his breath until he heard a crackle and muffled voices come through.
“Sorry, Fruitful, but didn’t catch that. Repeat.”
More crackling sounds filled the space then a blast. Zane jerked at the surprise but kept focused on their descent toward Fruitful.
A different voice, a woman, could be heard over the speakers. “Caelum I, we’ve been compromised. Our shields are barely holding. You have permission to land at Minister Sola’s residence, mark: forty-five dash thirteen dash one-hundred forty-nine.”
Zane nodded when Sean glanced his way. It was a rare thing to be given access to any minister’s home. Something catastrophic must have happened. He tapped the coordinates into the autopilot system and released control.
“Understood. Coordinates set for Minister Sola’s. Open breeze way.”
“Breeze way open. You have thirty seconds ‘til the gate will close,” the female voice replied. Before the communication was cut, another loud blast sounded from the background.
“What the hell is going on down there?”
“I don’t know Sean, but this is serious. That water is essential. We’ve got to get enough to reseed Earth Vegrandis, or an entire people will be lost.”
“It doesn’t help your mother lives there.”
“Shut up, Sean. Just keep your eyes open. The last thing we need is to surprise a Denian patrol.”
The ship slipped through the gateway into Fruitful’s atmosphere with only a few seconds to spare.
It wasn’t clouds blocking the view into the Oasis of Mars, though. The dome was filled with smoke, light gray and blinding. They couldn’t see anything and had to trust the autopilot to get them to the palace home of the minster.
The thick blanket obscuring their view didn’t stop Zane from searching out the front window for a sight of the oasis. That water was a lifeline, and he needed it.
Nothing. He couldn’t see a damned thing.
“Cap, how close are we to landing?”
He took a quick look at the dash. “Twelve seconds.”
The landing jets activated as soon as he said it, and the ship slowed, halting several feet off the ground before the docking beam from the platform engaged. It locked on and held Caelum I suspended in air.
Zane jumped out of his seat and ran toward the side hatch leading to the docking platform. He pressed the opening mechanism then skipped back and forth on his feet.
“Come on. Come on,” he said between gritted teeth.
The door slid open and allowed the Fruitful atmosphere to mix with that of the ship causing smoke to fill Zane’s lungs when he took a deep breath. He coughed into his hand while he waved the other, trying to see through the thick cover.
Oh shoot! I ran out of word count. That’s terrible for a short story, but I don’t have time to write anything else. And I kinda like this one anyway.
8/21/15 Here’s a link to the next installment: Oasis of Mars: Minister Sola’s Palace
Today is my son’s eighth birthday, so I gotta run! If you enjoyed this story and want to read more, I’ve got more in my brain. I’ll finish writing it in another post, if there’s interest.